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[Dehai-WN] Pambazuka.org: The Arab revolutions: A year after

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2012 22:22:36 +0100

The Arab revolutions: A year after

Samir Amin

2012-03-14, Issue <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/576> 576


Arab regimes achieved success within a short period but then ran out of
steam as a result of their internal limits and contradictions. The ruling
circles have given in to neo-liberal globalization, leading to rapid decline
in social conditions. That is what caused the revolts.


The uprising of Arab peoples in 2011 (Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrein and Yemen,
later Syria) was not unexpected, at least by many Arab leftist activists, if
not by the Western powers.

During the Bandung and Non-Alignment period (1955-1970) Arab countries were
in the forefront of the struggles of the peoples, nations and states of the
South for a better future and a less unequal global system. Algeria’s FLN
and Boumedienne, Nasser’s Egypt, the Baas regimes in Iraq and Syria and the
South Yemen Republic shared common characteristics. These were not
‘democratic’ regimes according to the Western criteria (they were
‘one-party’ systems), nor even according to our criteria, which implies
positive empowerment of the peoples. But they were nevertheless legitimate
in the eyes of their peoples, for their actual achievements: mass education,
health and other public services, industrialisation and guarantees for
employment and social upward mobility associated with independent
initiatives and anti-imperialist postures. Therefore they were continuously
fiercely fought by the Western powers, in particular through repeated
Israeli aggressions.

These regimes achieved whatever they could in that frame within a short
period, say 20 years, and then thereafter ran out of steam as a result of
their internal limits and contradictions. This, coinciding with the
breakdown of the Soviet power, facilitated the imperialist ‘neo-liberal’
offensive. The ruling circles, in order to remain in office, have chosen to
retreat and submit to the demands of neo-liberal globalisation. The result
was a fast degradation of the social conditions and all that had been
achieved in the era of the national popular state to the benefit of the
popular and middle classes was lost in a few years; poverty and mass
unemployment have become the normal result of the neo liberal policies
pursued. That created the objective conditions for the revolts. It is
curious to note that some of the most vocal supporters of the ‘democratic
revolutions’ calling the West to their rescue are some of the former leaders
who supported with enthusiasm the neo-liberal alignment!

The revolts were therefore not unexpected and many indicators suggested it,
such as the Egyptian mass strikes of 2007/8, the growing resistance of small
peasants to the accelerated process of their expropriation by the rich
peasants, the protest of new middle classes organisations (such as
‘Kefaya’), etc.

I have attempted to give a picture of the components of both ‘the movement’
and of the reactionary ‘anti revolutionary’ bloc (the leadership of the Army
and the Moslem Brotherhood) supported by the Western powers operating in
Egypt, in particular in my book published in Arabic in may 2011 (Thawra
Misr), in French in September (Le monde arabe dans la longue durée, le
printemps arabe?) and coming soon at Fahamu Books under the title of ‘The
peoples’ Spring, the Future of the Arab revolutions’.

I also refer here to other similar processes in Bahrain, which were savagely
crushed by the army of Saudi Arabia (without the least protest of the
West!), and in Yemen (where al Qaeda was ‘introduced’ in order to neutralise
the ‘menace’ coming from the progressive forces, particularly strong in the

This chapter was concluded with the elections in Tunisia and Egypt.


The elections in Tunisia (October 2011) opened the way to crystallisation of
the right-wing block that includes Al-Nahda-Renaissance Party (Brotherhood)
and personalities who ‘claim’ to be now ‘bourguibists’ (followers of
Bourguiba, the first Tunisian president), after their following of the Ben
Ali regime. This coalition relies on the majority of the council charged
with producing the new constitution.

This new regime is likely to achieve some democratic improvements (respect
for pluralism and freedom of opinion and stop the worst types of police
repression) along with regression in key social issues (women’s rights,
secular education, and the state), in the context of ensuring the
maintenance of the status quo in the area of economic development.

It is worth keeping in mind that the revolutionary movement in Tunisia has
not challenged the dependent pattern of development of the era of Ben Ali,
but considered it as ‘sound’ in itself, and accepted the narrative of the
World Bank! And it was merely satisfied in directing its criticism at the
repressive police state, and the imposition of ‘royalties’ to all economic
activities which were grabbed by members of the family of the president. And
the general public (with the exception of isolated left-wing) did not
comprehend that this style of dependent development is the cause of the
deterioration of social conditions, which prepared the conditions for the
uprising of the masses. The new ruling coalition will not modify the pattern
of development created by the first Tunisian president — Bourguiba— but
rather will infuse it with increased doses to solidify the alleged Islamic

The president of the new regime in Tunisia, Marzouki, happens to be a former
Left activist who suffered real repression by Ben Ali, but who seems not to
have understood what is actually economic ‘liberalism’. Curiously, this man
organised in Tunis in February 2012 a ‘conference’ on Syria, which supported
indirectly an eventual Western intervention in this country.

In Egypt, the results were followed by Islamist victory on a larger scale.
What can be expected from the achievements of political Islam and its
deep-rootedness in the public and the rise of the echo of the slogan
‘Islamisation of society’, hence its electoral victories? The answer
requires a return to uncover the reasons for this success.

Anyway the success of the Islamist parties, in Egypt at least, is certainly
not the end of the story. The ‘legitimacy’ of the elected parliament, which
the Western powers consider as exclusive, is questioned and counterbalanced
by the no less legitimacy of the continuation of the struggles for social
progress and authentic democratisation of politics and social life.

Yet the obstacles for the radicalisation of the struggles remain great, as
long as the major components of the movement have not reached the required
level of awareness with respect to the destructive effects of continuing
along a liberal political economy, and the alignment on a US guided
globalisation. But progress is to be noticed in the growing of that


I argued previously that the de-politicisation of the society due to the
modus operandi of the Nasserist regime is behind these achievements. Note
that Nasserism was not the only system that took this approach. Rather, most
populist nationalist regimes of the first wave of awakening in the South had
a similar approach in the management of politics. Note also that the
actually existing socialist regimes have also taken this approach, at least
after the revolutionary phase, that was democratic in nature, when they
solidified their rule.

So, the common denominator is the abolition of democratic praxis. And I do
not mean here to equalise between democracy and multiparty elections
management. Rather, the practice of democracy in the proper sense of the
word, i.e. respect for the plurality of political views and political
schemes and to respect its organising. Because politicisation assumes
democracy and democracy does not exist only if those who differ in opinion
with the authority enjoy freedom of expression. But, the obliteration of the
right to organise around different political views and projects eliminates
the politicisation, which is ultimately caused the subsequent disaster.

This disaster has manifested itself in the return to the bygone archaic
views (religious or otherwise), and this was also reflected in the
acceptance of the project of the ‘consumer society’ based on solidification
of the so-called trend of ‘individualism’, a trend which spread not only
among the middle class that is benefiting from such a pattern of
development, but also among the poor masses who call for participation in
what appear to be a minima welfare — even though with its maximum simplicity
— in the absence of credible real alternative. Therefore one must consider
this as a legitimate demand from the popular classes.

The de-politicisation in Islamic societies took a prevailing form that was
manifested in the apparent or superficial ‘return’ to ‘Islam’. Consequently,
the discourse of the mosque along with the discourse of authority became the
only allowed ones in Nasser’s period, and more so during the periods of
Sadat and Mubarak. This discourse was then used to stop the emergence of an
alternative based on the entrenching of a socialist aspiration. Then this
‘religious’ discourse was encouraged by Sadat and Mubarak to accompany and
cope with the deteriorating living conditions resulting from the subjugation
of Egypt to the requirements of imperialist globalisation. This is why I
argued that political Islam did not belong to the opposition block, as
claimed by the Muslim Brotherhood, but was an organic part of the power

The success of political Islam requires further clarification regarding the
relationship between the success of imperialist globalisation on the one
hand and the rise of Brotherhood slogans on the other hand.

The deterioration that accompanied this globalisation produced proliferation
in the activities of the informal sector in economic and social life, which
represents the most important sources of income for the majority of people
in Egypt (statistics say 60 percent). The Brotherhood’s organisations have
real ability to work in these circumstances, so that the success of the
Brotherhood in these areas in turn has produced more inflation in these
activities and thus ensured its reproduction on a larger scale. The
political culture offered by the Brotherhood is known for its great
simplicity. As this culture is content with only conferring Islamic
‘legitimacy’ to the principle of private property and the ‘free’ market
relations, without considering the nature of the activities concerned, which
are rudimentary (‘Bazaar’) activities that are unable to push forward the
national economy and lead to its development.

Furthermore, the provision of funds widely by the Gulf states has allowed
for the boom of such activities as these states have been pumping in the
required funds in the form of small loans or grants. This is in addition to
charity work (clinics, etc.) that has accompanied this inflated sector,
thanks to the support of Gulf states. The Gulf states do not intend to
contribute to the development of productive capacity in Egyptian economy
(building factories…etc.), but only the development of this form of ‘lumpen
development’, since reviving Egypt as a developing state would end the
domination of the Gulf states ( that are based on the acceptance of the
slogan of Islamization of the society), the dominance of the United States
(which assumes Egypt as a comprador state infected with worsening poverty),
and the domination of Israel (which assumes the impotence of Egypt in the
face of Zionist expansion).

This axis between an authority that hides behind the ‘Islamic’ slogans and
at the same time succumbs to the prevailing imperialist capitalism and the
consequent impoverishment of the people is not specific only to Egypt. It is
a common feature of most Arabic and Islamic societies. This axis is at work
in Iran, where Khumainism insured the dominance of the ‘Bazaar economy’ from
the beginning. It is also the cause for catastrophe in Somalia, which is a
state that was removed from the list of states of the modern contemporary

What then can we expect from the likelihood of political Islam’s rule in
Egypt (and in other countries)?

There is a prevailing media discourse, that is extremely naïve, that
contends that ‘the victory of political Islam became inevitable because
Islamic self-identity dominates the reality of our societies, and it is a
reality that some had rejected, and thus this reality imposed itself on

However, this argument completely ignores another reality, namely, that the
de-politicisation process was deliberate, and without which no political
Islam would have been able to impose itself on these societies. Furthermore,
this discourse argues that ‘there is no risk from this political Islam’s
victory because it is temporary, for the authority emerging from it is
doomed to fail and thus the public opinion will depart from it’. This is as
if the brotherhoods are those who accept implementation of the principles of
democracy if it worked against their interests!

However, the regime in Washington adopts, apparently, this discourse, as
well as the public opinion there, which is manufactured by the media. And
there is an ensemble of Egyptian and Arab intellectuals who also became
convinced by this discourse, apparently, perhaps opportunistically, or
because of lack of clarity in thought.

But this is a mistake. Let it be known that political Islam, in the
supposition of taking over the governments/rule, will continue to impose
itself if not ‘forever’, at least for a long time (50 years? And let us look
at the case of Iran for example). During this phase of ‘transition’ other
nations will continue their march of development, and so we will find
ourselves eventually in the bottom of the list. So I don't see the
Brotherhood as an ‘Islamic party’ primarily, but it is first a reactionary
party, and if it managed to take the government, this will represent the
best security for the imperialist system.


Salafism came to complement an obscurantist advocacy by Rashid Reda and the
Brotherhood. It openly rejects the idea of ‘liberty’ (and therefore
democracy) as it contradicts, in their view, the nature of the human being,
as he/she is created as a slave (note the word) to serve his creator-master,
like a slave required to serve his/her master. Of course, this doctrine does
not explain how we come to know the concrete demands of this master-creator
in the modern world. Does he accept or reject the increase in wages for
example? This opens the way for a ‘religious Iranian-style rule (wilayat
al-faqih),’ and through the dictatorship of the clerics who declared
themselves ‘scientists/ulemah,’ who monopolize this knowledge!

The Salafis are the enemies of modernity, as modernity is grounded on the
right to human creativity in dealing with earthly matters and questions
concerning human society. And creativity requires freedom and free critical
thought, which is rejected by the Salafis. What then about Salafi leaders
who say that they ‘belong to the modern world’ because they teach their
students how to use the computer and ‘business management’ (this by
resorting to the mediocre kind of American pamphlets distributed by USAID)?
These statements are not only a real farce, but the real master here is the
prevailing capitalist imperialism that is in need for ‘servants’ who
practice this ‘art’ and not more. The famous British Mr. Dunlop, ‘the
expert’ on education during the days of British occupation of Egypt, had
realised that perfectly and made it a blueprint that was implemented in

Modernity begins when overcoming these limitations and accepting the
principle of freedom, which is conditional for developing the capacity of
the nation to be able to belong to the modern world in the actual and active

Moslem Brotherhood and Salafis operate in conjunction, with a division of
tasks. The Moslem Brotherhood needed a ‘certificate’ of democracy, which
Obama gave them, and to that effect had to ‘separate’ from the ‘extremists’,
the Salafis.


Egypt and Algeria are the two Arab countries which have occupied a prominent
and leading position during the first wave of ‘awakening of the South’ in
the era of Bandung and Non-Aligned Movement. They achieved a successful
progress in their building of a state/nation entity that deserves to be
considered ‘post-colonial’, accompanied by noticeable progressive economic
and social achievements, despite its limitations, which planted hopes for
its continuation on the road to liberation. But that process was halted in
the two countries, and both moved back to the status of countries and
societies ruled by the dominant imperialism.

The Algerian pattern seems to have enjoyed superior consistency to that of
Egypt, which was reflected in its ability to limit the subsequent erosion,
so that the Algerian ruling class is still divided between a patriotic wing
and a comprador one. In some cases, these two contradictory characters are
shared in the same one person that belongs to the ruling class. This is
unlike the situation in Egypt where the ruling class, during Sadat and
Mubarak rule, completely abandoned any nationalist inclination altogether.

There are two reasons that explain this difference.

The war of liberation in Algeria bred naturally a radical trend
ideologically and socially. Unlike Egypt, where on one hand Nasserism came
after the liberation wave of the revolution starting as of 1919, which went
through periods of expansion and retreat, before the seeds of its
radicalisation were rooted after World War II. Then came the coup 1952 in an
ambiguous character that stopped the development of the radicalisation of
the liberation movement. This was followed by the Nasserist coup of 1954,
which amended this rightwing trend, but that amendment adopted an elitist
approach that excluded the popular classes from actively being involved in
contributing to it.

On the other hand, we must take into account the devastating effects that
independent Algeria inherited from the pattern of French settler
colonialism, where the Algerian ‘traditional’ society had disintegrated so
that the new society of independent Algeria has become endowed with a
pervasive plebeian nature. Thus the demand ‘for equality’ became a
distinguishing feature of the behavior and aptitudes of citizens, a degree
unparalleled in all other Arabic countries. This is also in contrast to the
history of Egypt as the ruling classes, since the time of Muhammad Ali
Pasha, had stirred the evolution of society and the Egyptian project of
revival. And the Egyptian project remained under aristocratic leadership
calling for modernisation, so that it gradually became a project of an
‘aristocratic bourgeois.’

And these two differences have created different conditions in the challenge
posed by the rise of political Islam. As Hocine Bellaloufi explained, in his
book (Democracy in Algeria: Reform or Revolution, under print) that
political Islam in Algeria revealed early on its ugly face, and then came to
failure and defeat. But this did not signify that political Islam has become
something of the past and unable to recover. Yet there is a huge difference
between Algeria and Egypt from this angle so that political Islam in Egypt
still enjoys ‘legitimacy’ among the general public. And the alliance between
the comprador bourgeois and political Islam remains representative of the
main axis that will ensure long-term rule of the dependent capitalist
economic pattern in Egypt.

From this, we can imagine different developments in the face of contemporary
challenges in both countries, at least in the short term, because we should
not rule out the possibility of controlled reforms in Algeria. At least that
this possibility has a portion of realism, unlike the situation in Egypt
where it is inconceivable to imagine a development that avoids violent
collision between the popular movement and the cluster of reactionary
‘Islamic/comprador’ alliance.

Furthermore, while Egypt and Algeria are the two Arab countries which can be
conceived as candidates in the accession to the group of ‘emerging’ states,
they also can come to represent a sad model for failure to climb to that
level. Although the responsibility of the ruling classes in this failure is
crucial, it is not correct to ignore the responsibility of rest of the
society and its intellectuals and activists in the political movements.

With regard to the Arab states in the Maghreb generally, it is claimed that
the Kingdom of Morocco is another positive example of change based on the
achievement of gradual democratic reforms by peaceful means. Let the reader
allow me to make my reservations on the likelihood of achieving such goal,
as such evolution is conditioned by a Royal Decree that excludes from the
start any questioning about the dependent capitalist pattern that frames it.

Furthermore, as long as the Moroccan people remain content with the
principle of the rule of religious-monarchial regime (as the king is ‘Amir
Al-mu'minin’), these restricted and limited reforms won't open the way for
the real democracy required.

Perhaps this is the reason for the impossibility of Moroccans to understand
the significance of the problem of Western Sahara, as the free people of
Western Sahara are proud of another interpretation of Islam that does not
allow them to kneel except before God, and not before any human being, even
a king.


The Syrian Baathist regime belonged in the past to the cluster of national
popular experiences (though not democratic) in the style of Nasserism and
other experiences in the era of Bandung. And when the limits of possible
real achievements in this framework became apparent, Hafez el Assad turned
to a project that sought to combine the preservation of nationalist
patriotism that is oppositional to colonialism on the one hand, and on the
other hand, to benefit from the right-conservative concessions reflected in
the ‘openness’ (liberalisation) similar to the route taken by Nasser
following the defeat of 1967.

The subsequent history of this project became apparent. In Egypt, it led
immediately after the death of Nasser in 1970 to surrender without
reservation to the demands of the reactionary axis consisting of the United
States, the Gulf and Israel.

In Syria, this ‘opening’ led to the same results as it happened in other
countries. That is, to serious rapid deterioration of social conditions for
poorer classes and which eroded the legitimacy of the regime.

In the current developments, the Syrian regime has faced protests with
repression and nothing else. The Brotherhood took advantage of the
opportunity to appear as the ‘opposition’. Thus a coherent plan crystallised
under the leadership of imperialism and its allies that sought not to ‘rid
the Syrian people of a dictator,’ but to destroy the Syrian state, modeled
on the United States work in Iraq and Libya.

Here also where the profound relationship of the tripartite interests is
apparent as the goal 1) for the U.S. is the breaking of the
Iran/Syria/Hezbollah alliance, which is an obstacle to U.S. entrenching of
its control over the region, 2) for Israel to have Syria fragmented into
sectarian mini-states, and 3) for the Gulf Arab states, it is the
entrenching of a ‘Sunni’ dictatorship in the Wahabbi style, although this
dictatorship will be established on the massacres and criminal elimination
of Alawis, Druze and Christians. In the face of danger of this possible
fate, the Assad regime remains unable to respond with the only needed and
effective method, which is supposed to exclude the use of violence and to
engage in genuine reforms, as the only acceptable solution assumes the
opening of the way to genuine negotiations, which is conditional for the
strengthening of a democratic front whose components are present in the
ground, despite the effort to mute its voice. Simply opposing State
terrorism to the so called “ Islamic/Salafi” terrorism leads nowhere.


1.The strategy of contemporary imperialism for the region (the ‘great Middle
East’) does not aim at all at establishing some form of ‘democracy’. It aims
at destroying the countries and societies through the support of so-called
Islamic regimes which guarantee the continuation of a ‘lumpen development’
(to use the words of my late friend A G Frank), i.e. a process of continuous
pauperisation. Eventual ‘high rates of growth’, praised by the World Bank,
are meaningless, being based on the plunder of natural resources, associated
with fast growing inequality in the distribution of income and pauperisation
for the majorities.

Iraq provides the ‘model’ for the region. The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein
has been replaced by three no less (even more) terror regimes, in the name
of ‘religion’ (Sunna and Shia) and of ethnicity (the Kurds), associated with
the systematic destruction of the infrastructures and industries, and the
planned assassination of tens of thousands of the elite citizens, in
particular engineers and scientists, as well as the destruction of the
education system (which was not bad in the time of Saddam) to reduce it to
the teaching of religion and business!

Those are also the targets for Syria.

Isn’t it a curiosity that we see now the Emir of Qatar and the King of Saudi
Arabia among the most vocal advocates of ‘democracy’. A farce.

2. Turkey plays an active role, along with the US (never forget that Turkey
is a Nato member) in the implementation of that plan. It has established in
the Hatay province camps for the recruitment and training of killers (so
called ‘Moslems’) who are infiltrated in Syria. Refer here to the book of
Bahar Kimyongur ( Syriana, la conquète continue, Couleur Livre, Charleroi,

3. The US was ‘surprised’ by the Tunisian and Egyptian popular revolts. They
now plan to ‘preempt’ possible similar movements by initiating armed revolts
of small groups supported by them. This strategy was tested with success in
Libya (now a disintegrated country), and now in Syria. The reader can refer
here to my papers on Libya (Lybia could break up like Somalia, Pambazuka,
07/09/2011) and Somalia (Is there a solution to the problems of Somalia?,
Pambazuka, 17/02/2011 ).

The following target is Iran, under the pretext of its nuclear development,
using to that effect Israel, which is unable to do the job without the
active implication of the US forces. Iran, whatever one may think of its
regime (in fact associating ‘Islam’s rule’ and market economy!) does
constitute an obstacle to the deployment of the US military control over the
region. This country must therefore be destroyed.

4. The final real target of contemporary imperialism is ‘containment and
then after rolling back’ by preemptive war the most dangerous emerging
countries (China first). Add here Russia, which, if it succeeds in
modernising its army, can put an end to the exclusive military power of the

That implies the total subordination of all other countries of the South
with a view to ensuring exclusive access to the natural resources of the
whole planet to the benefit of the societies of the triad (US, Europe and
Japan), their plunder and waste. It implies therefore more of lumpen
development, more of pauperisation and more of terrorist regimes.
Contemporary capitalism has nothing else to offer.


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Received on Mon Mar 19 2012 - 17:22:36 EDT
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